Friday, April 10, 2015

Don’t Penalize Intelligence

Slowly but surely spring is coming to the Northeast. There are no leaves on the trees. It’s raw and rainy most days. But, Major League Baseball is underway and soon high schoolers, Little Leaguers and softball teams will be doing their best to play ball in the cold, mud and slop.

About this time every year, you start to see articles, posts and tweets lamenting how the game has changed. Depending on whom you ask, today’s players are either faster, bigger, stronger and smarter than they used to be. Or, they’re lazier, softer, more coddled and less committed to the game than “back in my day.”

One thing’s for sure—the game’s a lot more measurable. You don’t need to be a sabermetrician (empirical analyst of baseball) to see that since testing for performance-enhancing drugs began in the mid 2000s, home runs and scoring are way down, batting averages are also plummeting and strikeouts are way up.

Getting the edge when everyone’s playing “Money Ball”
Hitters are certainly facing more fresh-armed specialist relief pitchers than they used to. And, thanks to the Big Data revolution of the past 15 years, when hitters do make contact, more of their hits are turning into outs. Just look at their “Babip” (batting average on balls in play). Are the fielders really that much better? Probably not. But players and their coaches have a lot more ways of anticipating where balls will be hit….and batters have fewer opportunities to “hit em where they ain’t.

According to Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), teams in 2011 used fewer than 2,500 “shifts” on balls in play…..Yes, there are folks who’ve made a business out of keeping track of things like that. Last year, BIS said Major League team used more than 13,000, and the company said its software actually “recommended” about 40,000 shifts. So expect to see more.

You’re certainly seeing it in the college game and it’s creeping into the high school game according to my older son who plays at that level. I’ve even seen it used against my 11 year-old’s team—he’s a lefty who likes to go “oppo” on outside pitches and don’t think the other teams don’t notice!. More youth coaches using iPads to keep score with a Game Changer app that can stream kids’ games pitch by pitch, to parents who are caught in traffic or stuck at the office.

As Steve Kettmann observed earlier this week in The New York Times, “as baseball managers get younger and better educated, much of the fresh energy in baseball today comes from putting analytical tools to work in rethinking old assumptions.”

Our take? Substitute the word “portfolio” for “baseball” and “market” for “game” and this argument should start to sound familiar to many of you. As Detroit Tigers president Dave Dombrowski quipped last week, “I don’t think you should penalize intelligence.” The burden is on hitters and their coaches to adjust, he added.


Over the long-term, batting averages like stock market returns, will always regress to the mean (.268 and 8%, respectively if your keeping score). Any new edge in intelligence or tools will be fairly quickly absorbed by the wisdom of the crowd.

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


TAGS: sabermetrics, Baseball Information Solutions, Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tiger, Steve Kettmann, don’t penalize intelligence

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